Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Yes Day

Monday was my oldest son Zev's 9th birthday, so this week I celebrate him and also the day I became a mom.  I love birthdays!  I call birthdays “yes” days, because whatever the question is, the answer is yes.  Can I have 2 donuts for breakfast - yes!  Can I skip my homework and watch Sponge Bob for 4 hours straight - yes!  Can I stay up until 10:00  - yes!  It’s the most fun day to be a parent.  

Now, I have to be honest.  The days after my kids’ birthdays are my least favorite days in the year, because of course all that excess and overdoing it isn't sustainable and they can't manage the sugar crash and let down of the day after.  But there is a happy medium here. As a parent, I find that I have to say no more often than I'd like to for one reason or another.  I've also noticed that my initial reaction in my life in general is often no, even when it doesn’t necessarily have to be.  When we practice Anusara yoga, we say yes first (Open to Grace), then we refine by creating boundaries (Muscular Energy).  It's a subtle difference, but can have a profound shift.  Sometimes ultimately it ends up as a no, but a no as a refinement of a yes is different than a hard no from the start.  

Here’s how it might play out off the mat:  My 6-year-old son asks if he can ride his bike around the block with a friend.  I say no - case closed.  OR I say yes, but....  I have to do it with you once first and you have to follow all the rules.  If I see that happen, you can go by yourselves the next time one time around staying together.  So even though I'm freaking out a little, everyone wins and everyone feels safe and we all expand and grow, me as a parent and he as an independent individual.
On the mat it looks like this: the teacher demos some crazy arm balance pose.  I immediately say to myself, “no, not me I'm too _____________ “ (plug in your word...old, inflexible, scared, injured, etc.) - case closed, you go do viparita karani (legs up the wall). OR I say yes, but...  My teacher gives some good warm ups, some alignment points to work on that will help get me into the pose.  So I do those.  And then when it comes time to do the pose, I just keep doing the prep rather than just taking yourself out of the running completely from the start.  I might not do the pose that day, but I am mindfully working on the prep and the alignment so even if I never get into the full final form it doesn't matter, I am still getting stronger, expanding my boundaries safely, and growing physically and emotionally by staying in the game.  

The Universe is like a birthday parent.  Whatever you ask the answer is yes - always and unconditionally.  Your Source wants for you what you want for yourself.  
So if you say “I want to live fully, joyfully, love-fully!”  the Universe says “YES!”
if you say “My life is so hard, everything is such a challenge.” the Universe says “YES!”
if you say “I live in abundance and wholeness.” the Universe says “YES!”
if you say “I’ll never have enough time, money, love…” the Universe says “YES!”

Birthdays are a day to unabashedly receive. To receive what is up to you.  Every breath, our embodiment itself with all that it brings is a gift, but what do we do with that? What do you want for your life?  What do you desire?  Since the Universe is always affirming what we affirm for ourselves, take a moment to ask yourself what is your "mantra" (the thing(s) you say to yourself over and over again, day in day out)?  Does it affirm your highest aspirations for yourself?  It’s like that famous Henry Ford quote one of my students reminded me of in class this week: "Whether you think you can, or you think you can't, you're right."  Every day (really every moment) has the opportunity to be a re-birth day, an opportunity to become an open vessel for grace, love, creativity and blessings and receive the beauty of the world and of your life.

Come to your mat and your life this week and be open to receive.  The great poet Rumi said “That which you are seeking is also seeking you.” so set your highest intention and I guarantee the Universe will affirm it.  Say YES to your life: your challenges, your blessings, your poses, your body, your job, your family, your friends and watch the transformation begin.  Happy re-birth day!

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Purnatva = Knowing When to Stop

Question of the week:

Q:  What is the rarest thing?
A:  Knowing when to stop.

I’ve been asking my students this week to identify areas or aspects of their lives that they have trouble practicing when to stop.  Some of the common answers were:

when to stop eating 
when to stop talking and to listen, especially when it’s a challenging conversation or argument
when to stop perseverating an idea or thought pattern that is distracting you from living your life
when to stop nagging your kids (including adult children) and just let them make mistakes and learn the lesson for themselves
when to stop worrying

Everyone was very forthcoming with their thoughts on excesses, but there are also times when we stop too soon.  In Tantra, one of the 6 attributes of the Divine is purnatva, which means wholeness or fullness.  As innately divine beings we live in a state of purnatva, a place of wholeness and perfection...and yet, as my friend Danny Arguetty says, if we spent our lives just basking in that wholeness all the time life would be stagnant and unproductive.  We are born from perfection into perfection…and yet we are alive, and being alive means growing and changing.  The possibility of expansion is always, always there. 

I’ve been playing Ravel’sBolero in my classes this week.  It starts with a beautiful melody played by the flute, accompanied by a steady, quiet drum beat.  He could have chosen to just leave it at that – a beautiful melody in an of itself, like Mozart’s Ah! vous dirai-je, Maman (the melody that we sing Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star and Baa, Baa, Black Sheep to, among other things).  But Ravel keeps building on a beautiful melody, adding another instrument at a time, until the whole orchestra is participating and the piece builds to a beautiful, inspiring crescendo.  He also knows when to quit – let’s face it, the same thing over and over again could get annoying (spoken by someone recently returned from Disney and the It’s a Small World ride…).  So we see there is always room for expansion, and yet we have to know when to quit.

I recently read about a study of young children’s eating habits.  The children in the study were asked how they knew when their meal was finished.  Most of the American children answered “when my plate is empty.”  Most of the European children answered “when I am full.”  We have external markers and internal markers for knowing our capacity for fullness.  When we practice yoga, we become more attuned to our internal cues so we know more clearly when it is time to stop and when it is time to keep going. Knowing “when to stop” is knowing both ends of the spectrum.

On the mat we can always be reaching to expand our poses.  That doesn’t necessarily mean doing the wildest most advanced form of the pose (although sometimes it does) – as Jan Jeremias reminded me on Monday morning, sometimes expanding into  pose happens energetically as we imagine ourselves moving beyond perceived limitation, or emotionally as we let go of our attachment to the pose looking “perfect” and just feel the joy of being alive and able to practice in whatever way we are able to. 

Here are some more ways to embody purnatva on the mat:
Open to Grace: Breathe deeply and feel your inner body expand with a brightness and fullness, connecting with your own innate sense of purnatva. Feel the perfect fullness of yourself today, right now.  Yet with each breath feel your capacity for that fullness to grow – your awareness, your mindfulness, your self- confidence and self-worth.  Each breath opens us up more for the next breath to come.
Muscular Energy: Draw in to the feeling of purnatva that you already are.
Inner Spiral: From the place of fullness, open up to more and more, expand beyond your limitations, whether real or perceived.
Organic Energy: Flow out beyond the limits of where you've stopped before, recognizing that every pose has the capacity for your experience to expand beyond where it reached before.

And an off the mat practice, also suggested Danny Arguetty:
What is one area of your life where you feel particularly full?   Can you see how it might still expand and grow and become even more full? 

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Autumn and aparigraha (non-clinging)

This week at Shree we are back to the questions (riddles) that Dharma poses to Yudhisthira to (see past blog entries for story context):

Q:  What makes one wealthy if it’s cast away?
A:  Greed

Q:  What causes desire for possessions?
A: Nothing else but the possessions themselves.

These questions evoke the yama of aparigraha, or non-clinging.  In my house we have 2 extremes on this front:  I am somewhat sentimental and hold onto things, gifts from friends, notes from family members, offerings from students, clothing that might come back into style (that sometimes can take 15 years you know!), the camera that broke 5 years ago but I still might want to get fixed and use again, etc.  I like to surround myself with meaningful things and I like to make little "altars" with meaningful objects.  My husband calls this clutter (not the altars, but the clothing and camera type stuff).   He is a purger.  He likes things simple and neat and so it often leads him to get rid of things that, in my opinion, should be kept a little longer for one reason or another.  Like the iPhone case that he bought 3 months ago but doesn't like anymore so it goes in the trash, only to realize 2 weeks later that oh yeah, now I remember why I bought that case in the first place so let me go buy another one.  You get the idea.

Aparigraha is not only about stuff.  It's about clinging to ideas that hold us or those around us back.  Holding onto beliefs that are harmful and keep us closed down.  It's about managing our expectations - when we have a picture in our minds of how we want things to go and they don't go that way, practicing aparigraha means letting it go and not clinging to our disappointment.  Sometimes we grasp a relationship or a job in an unhealthy way.  These are far more challenging to let go of than the old shirt or birthday card, but the practice is still the same.

The autumn trees have a lesson to teach us: just when the leaves are at their most beautiful, the trees let them go.  Life moves forward whether we like it or not – we can choose to step into the flow or anchor ourselves where we are.  Break out your inner tube folks, it’s so much easier to be carried!  Sometimes we have to let go of even beautiful things in order to keep moving forward in a meaningful way.  It can be hard, but there is so much freedom when we can do it.

So, like all things yoga, there is a balance here.  Aparigraha is not about living the life of an ascetic, but in being discerning about what it is we really value, what is really important and letting go of the rest.   

Here are a few more aparigraha practices that have helped me:
Practice forgiveness.  Let go of painful memories and past grudges.
Let go of your need for perfection. Danna Faulds says (the pursuit of) “perfection is only a prerequisite for pain.”
Be proactive: take time to nurture yourself – when we feel afraid or insecure we cling to those around us.
When cleaning up a room, bring a box and label it “toss” and fill it with your clutter.  Set the “toss” box on a shelf for a month or 2 – if you haven’t looked for or used anything in it in that time, throw it out.

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